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Winds cause whiteout conditions in Dakotas

A winter storm across several Midwestern states brings fierce winds and light snow, leaving travelers stranded and closing some schools and businesses.
A lone truck makes its way down a road in Grand Forks, N.D., on Monday.
A lone truck makes its way down a road in Grand Forks, N.D., on Monday.John Stennes / Grand Forks Herald via AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

A winter storm that moved across several Midwestern states Monday brought fierce winds and light snow that was easily blown around, leaving travelers stranded and closing some schools and businesses.

The weather was so bad in northeastern North Dakota that Grafton construction company owner Jack Burns decided not even leave his house.

"It wasn't worth it," he said. "We definitely can work outside in the cold, but you can't work outside in the wind. We pretty much have to wait until this blows over."

Heavy snowfall was not expected, but strong winds were blowing around what was falling — or had already fallen in the last several days — in the Dakotas, Iowa, Nebraska and Minnesota, creating whiteout conditions in some places. Ice buildup on power lines also was a problem in some areas.

Crews in the Dakotas, Nebraska and Iowa were continuing efforts to restore electricity to about 13,000 people, mostly in rural areas.

Conditions were so bad in North Dakota, that officials advised people not to travel at all. Portions of Interstate 94 were closed in the southern part of the state because of zero visibility and a multi-vehicle crash. Interstate 29 was closed between Grand Forks and the Canadian border and from Watertown, S.D., to the North Dakota border.

Multi-vehicle pileup
Iowa officials closed a nearly 80-mile stretch of Interstate 35 from Ames to Clear Lake after a pileup that the state Department of Public Safety said involved as many as 40 vehicles. There was no immediate word on injuries.

In northeast Nebraska and south central and southwest Minnesota, some state highways were closed.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty activated the National Guard to help counties in southern and west-central Minnesota provide shelter and other services. Armories in Olivia, Marshall, and St. James were opened for stranded travelers.

At the Pilot Travel Center in Clear Lake in northern Iowa, truckers and other travelers were pulling off Interstate 35 and waiting for the storm to pass. Manager Dan Skiye said he had at least 100 semitrailers in his parking lot Monday afternoon.

"The truckers say they can't see the front of their trucks and they're pulling off," he said.

Some people also had to cope without heat as they waited for their power to come back on.

Power poles keep falling
About 5,000 people in North Dakota, 5,400 in Iowa and about 200 in northeastern Nebraska remained without power. Outages were more severe in South Dakota, where about 7,900 people still had no electricity. More than 10,000 utility poles were believed to be down in the Dakotas and Iowa.

"Crews are getting a lot of stuff rebuilt. Then they turn around and ... other stuff is coming down," said Brenda Kleinjan, spokeswoman for the South Dakota Rural Electric Association.

In eastern North Dakota, airline flights and school classes were canceled and county offices closed. North Dakota State University in Fargo shut down midmorning, and the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks never bothered to open.

"It's pretty brutal," University of North Dakota spokesman Peter Johnson said.

Meteorologist Ken Simosko in Bismarck said arctic air was heading south from Canada, and some northern areas could see dangerous wind chills overnight Tuesday and Wednesday.

"One thing after another, it seems like," he said. "But it's January. In a couple of months it will be spring and the flowers will be blooming."